So much went wrong yesterday. The bats, again, failed to show up for most of the game…and when they did, this team – again – couldn’t close out a win. This is getting old…and it’s getting old real fast.
For the most part, I’m not going to carry over any long-term worry or blame from the miserable performance we watched for 12 innings yesterday. Errors by Pujols and Westbrook are rarities and will self-correct. Theriot’s error is something of a trend, but nothing I didn’t expect. He hasn’t consistently played the SS position for quite a while. I said before that he’ll need time for his instincts and habits to re-calibrate. That’s all we’re seeing here. His concentration and execution has been more in-line with a second baseman than a SS. At second, you can get away with a slightly off throw to first. At second, you won’t be serving as the key receiver for outfield throws. He’ll be okay. Not great…but okay.
Unfortunately, there were a few items that just won’t self-correct…they need a more determined effort to change. These include the following:
1. Ryan Franklin Does NOT Have a Knuckleball. You have GOT to be kidding me. We just finish rallying in the ninth in a game that could really boost team morale, and Ryan Franklin is jackin’ around with a knuckleball pitch that he thinks he can throw. WTF?! Dude has two outs and no real threat developing with a one run lead, and he and Yadi decide it’s a good freakin’ time to experiment? The first knuckleball nearly got away from Molina…way outside. The second DOES get away from Molina…wild pitch…tying run moves to second and eventually comes around to score on a single. Just stupid.
We’re always hearing all this stuff about all the pitches Franklin can throw…and we started hearing mutterings this Spring that he was going to use his so-called knuckleball more this year. But now? In this situation? Just ridiculous. And shame on Yadier Molina for calling that ridiculous pitch there. Dear Ryan Franklin and Yadier Molina: “Franklin does not have a knuckleball. He has a pitch he calls a knuckleball…but he can’t throw it reliably and therefore should not throw it in situations where he needs to be reliable. Stick to your best, most consistent, easily located stuff in spots like that. This is not Little League.”
2. Ryan Franklin is NOT a reliable closer. Can Frankie get the job done more often than not? Sure. But we can’t afford to keep dropping those NOT games. You know how you can tell when you have a reliable closer? When everyone on the field and in the dugout considers simply allowing the pitcher to get the hitter out their best chance to get the final out of the game. That did not happen here. Instead, Pujols and Molina were concerned enough about Franklin facing Sandoval that they attempted the “bail his ass out” pick off move at first. Unfortunately, Franklin didn’t get the memo.
Look…I know we don’t have a clear cut alternative to Franklin in the pen. That’s fine. It’s not ideal…but it’s fine. But pretending that Franklin is a reliable closer now is just irresponsible. If he’s not the guy, and we don’t have “a guy,” then stop setting things up for someone that doesn’t exist. Worried that Franklin can’t get Sandoval out…then bring in Tallet to face him (with the exception of 2009, Sandoval is historically less effective against lefties). I guess my point is, just because we don’t have an alternative to Franklin as a closer doesn’t mean we have no other options. I know Tony loves the idea of a clear-cut closer…but pretending like you have one when you don’t is even more disastrous than simply abandoning the closer mentality altogether.
3. Now even TLR is pressing. In that final inning…when Sanchez was at the plate with 2 outs and a base open…Tony calls for the intentional walk to face Rowand with the bases loaded. Rowand strokes one to the wall…game over. I really don’t understand this move. Rowand had already hit a line drive up the middle to tie the game. Sanchez was hitless. Both are righties versus a lefty pitcher. Rowand has consistent power…Sanchez does not. Sanchez is more of a singles hitter (i.e. ground ball). Rowand is more of a doubles hitter (i.e. outfield gap). Face Sanchez, Tallet has a base to work with as he pitches to the hitter. Face Rowand, no bases open and a walk ends the game (i.e. have to throw Rowand pitches to hit). Sure, the force out at every base may be helpful…but you already had a force out at second and first to work with and a singles hitter up.
Ultimately, Tony made the wrong call. The move was to pitch to Sanchez there with a base open. Even if the runner at first takes second…I still think the move is to pitch to Sanchez. Especially when the at-bat starts with a called strike, 0-1 count. The reality is that Tony can’t sit by without doing something to help his team win. He’s pressing as much as anyone else and felt the need to make a move (the IBB to Sanchez). He has to chill out. Hopefully the shorter ‘pen today will help him restrain himself.
Okay…that’s enough of the negatives. There were a few positives that came out of yesterday. Let’s hit them very quickly and then settle in to prepare for tonight’s game.
1. Ryan Theriot is now officially on the team. FINALLY! Yesterday, we finally got to see the grinding, winning, tough, scrappy, offensive player we paid for in the ninth. What a freaking at-bat that was by Ryan “I Need a Hero” Theriot. 12 pitches. Foul ball after foul ball. Works an 0-2 count to a 3-2 count with 2 outs, RISP, game on the line, and the World Series winning closer on the mound. Then lines a pitch to LF to tie the game. Way to go, Ryan Theriot. I am impressed.That’s one of the best at-bats I’ve seen anyone on this team put together in the last three years. Add to that a decent box score in the lead off spot (2 for 5 with 2 RBIs, a run scored, and a walk), and Theriot had a very encouraging day.
2. We scored more than three runs! I guess this is a positive, but on the eve of Matt Holliday returning, it’s good to see the offense and the team show some spunk…even if it did take a full nine innings to do it.
3. Bryan Augenstein showed real composure. In a bullpen struggling to define itself, Bryan Augenstein could really be an asset if he can show more of what he showed last night. The implications of a reliable long-reliever with strikeout stuff are huge to a ‘pen that would love to be able to settle into some roles.
4. Albert Pujols got an RBI. I know, I know…he didn’t exactly get it done in a couple key situations…but just seeing him come through late in the game and stroke an RBI hit to LF is highly encouraging.
5. David Freese loves big outfields. As I mentioned in a post earlier, David Freese may really be able to take advantage of this spacious outfield to get his opposite field stroke going. Yesterday, he drove a ball to the RF wall that inspired hope for the fifth/sixth spot in the order.
6. Colby Rasmus CAN hit lefties. Raz is showing himself to be the everyday player we all thought he could be (and desperately need him to be). He faced a tough lefty yesterday and still cranked out a couple hits. And…as an added positive, Colby continued his excellent OBP pace by adding a couple walks to his box score. When Holliday comes back, he and Raz will help Albert get going.
7. Jake Westbrook is a warrior. He had several stretches yesterday where he clearly didn’t know where his pitchers were going. He was visibly irritated, and could have easily let the game get away from him. Instead, he hung in there and battled deep into the sixth (should have been out of it if Theriot hadn’t thrown the ball high to 1B) only allowing 3 runs…a total that turned out to be significant as the Cardinals rallied to take a 4-3 lead in the ninth. J-Dub will be fine.
That’ll do it for today. The Cardinals have some good things going, but they’ve still not figured out how to close out wins – not just on the mound, but as a team. Their mental toughness needs to start showing up on the field. And that’s on Tony. If the first week of the season REALLY doesn’t mean that much to TLR, then he needs to calm down and get his team focused. It’s time to show up. The Reds are only pulling farther and farther away.